Women’s Cells Stay Young on a Healthy Diet

Fruits vegetables 2
Women – want younger cells? Eat more of these!

Every woman wants to feel and look younger. Let’s face it, so does every guy.

But this isn’t about men. Sorry, fellas.

This is about the recent study that indicates that women who eat a healthy, varied diet tend to have cells more resistant to cellular aging.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, women who consume a diet composed of lots of fruits and vegetables and whole grains and low in processed meats, added sugar and sodium can expect healthy cellular aging. (1)

So, no bacon, but you get to live forever? Not exactly.

The lead author of the University of Michigan School of Public Health study, Cindy Leung, Assistant Professor of Nutritional Sciences had this to say: “The key takeaway is that following a healthy diet can help us maintain healthy cells and avoid certain chronic diseases.  Emphasis should be placed on improving the overall quality of your diet rather than emphasizing individual foods or nutrients.”

Now that may not seem to be much of a definitive statement, but the science here is pretty solid.

Leung’s team used telomere length as a way of measuring cellular aging. Telomeres are specific DNA-protein structures found at each end of the chromosome. By protecting the genome from damage, thereby protecting the information in the genome.

Each time a cell divides, a small amount of the telomeric material is lost, shortening the telomere. So as we age, we naturally experience telomeric shortening. When a telomere reaches a critical length, it undergoes cellular senescence (aging and dysfunction) or apoptosis (telomeric death.) In a way, then, our telomeres are like a biological clock. When the clock strikes “too short,” that’s pretty much it.

Behaviors like smoking, drinking alcohol to excess and drug use can create oxidative stress by releasing free radicals into the system which can accelerate cellular division in an effort to repair damage. This speeds the shortening of telomeres, pushing the proverbial hands of the biological clock ahead.

Research has shown that chronic stress can also shorten telomeres. (2) By creating excessive levels of cortisol, chronic stress elevates free radicals, making cells work overtime repairing damage. In women with the highest stress levels, as much as one decade of telomeric age had been lost.

So with life doing it’s best to kill your telomeres, you can use every leg up you can get. After all, shortened telomeres have been associated with type 2 Diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

But according to the Michigan study, you have a weapon at hand. Readily at hand, in fact!

In their sample of nearly 5,000 healthy adults, Leung and her team scored them based on four evidence-based diet quality indices, including the DASH diet, the Mediterranean diet and two other common measures of diet quality developed by the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and the USDA.

For women, longer telomere length was strongly associated with higher scores on each index.

From Leung: “We were surprised that the findings were so consistent regardless of the diet quality index we used. All four diets emphasize eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and plant-based protein and limiting consumption of sugar, sodium and red and processed meat.”

“Overall, the findings suggest that following these guidelines is associated with longer telomere length and reduces the risk of major chronic disease.”

Elissa Epel, author of several studies about stress and telomeres and Professor of Psychiatry at University of California at San Francisco, co-authored this study. She had this to say: “The commonality to all of the healthy diet patterns is that they are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory diets. They create a biochemical environment favorable to telomeres.”

The study found similar results in men, but without statistical significance.

“We have seen some gender differences in previous nutrition and telomere studies,” Leung said. “In our study, as well as in previous studies, men tended to have lower diet quality scores than women. Men also had higher intakes of sugary beverages and processed meats, both of which have been associated with shorter telomeres in prior studies.

“It’s possible that not all foods affect telomere length equally and you need higher amounts of protective foods in order to negate the harmful effects of others. However, more research is needed to explore this further.”

So while you may not be able to prevent stress in your life (although this may help “5 Things To Do For Instant Stress Relief,”) it seems that all is not lost. With a healthy diet rich in fruits, veggies, whole grains and other good stuff, you can give your telomeres a fighting chance!

And keep them young, supple and beautiful a lot longer!


  1. Leung, C., et al., Diet Quality Indices and Leukocyte Telomere Length among Healthy US Adults: Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) 1999-2002. American Journal of Epidemiology, 2018
  2. Epel, ES, Blackburn, EH, et al., Accelerated telomere shortening in response to life stress. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA, Dec., 2004

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